Another crucial step in the fate of Hamilton’s LRT project is set for Wednesday as a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) goes before city councillors for a vote.
The document – prepared by city staff, Metrolinx and the Ministry of Transportation – was developed after a 9-6 ratification vote on June 23 to proceed with the opportunity to spend provincial and federal funding on a 17-stop transit line between McMaster University and Eastgate Square.
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who’s been a longtime proponent of the investment, told Global News recently that he’d hoped the MOU would be voted on in August, but said the provincial end of the process was “a little bit more onerous” than the city’s.
“They’ve got, you know, ministries to go through, Metrolinx to sign off on and treasury board to get to as well,” Eisenberger told 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly on Aug. 20.
“So all of that took more time than we would have liked.”
The mayor said the “action item” outlines the responsibilities of the federal, provincial and local governments and if approved will put procurement back in place for Metrolinx to continue its purchase of the remaining 30 per cent of properties it needs to continue construction.
As of December, Metrolinx said it had purchased 60 buildings with 21 along King and Main streets earmarked for demolition. In the agreement, the agency will be responsible for completing construction and handling the LRT’s life-cycle costs going forward.
If the MOU is approved next week, the city and province can also move on to other issues, including whether Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107 members will operate the line.
Hamilton’s LRT officially got back on the rails in May after the Doug Ford government cancelled the project in 2019 citing cost overruns.
The 14-kilometre light rail transit line was resurrected after an agreement was reached between the province and federal governments to jointly fund the initiative for $3.4 billion.
In the forthcoming agreement, Hamilton will keep fare revenue once the LRT is operational, but will be responsible for daily operating and maintenance costs.
A city staff report in mid-June suggested that cost could initially be $6.4 million per year if buses are retired on the east-west corridor, incentive programs encouraging downtown investment are nixed and the line brings an eight per cent increase in ridership.
“So this is a defining moment,” Eisenberger said of the upcoming vote.
“It doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be future agreements down the road for other issues, but the reality is this is the foundational document that gets this process back to procurement and hopefully with shovels in the ground early 2022.”
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